Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone

By Eric Klinenberg

(Penguin, $27.95, 288 pages)

Who is this author?

You may have heard Eric Klinenberg on “This American Life” or read his work in The New York Times Magazine. Rolling Stone , The Nation, The Washington Post, Mother Jones and other magazines. A professor of sociology at New York University and the editor of the journal Public Culture, he is also the author of the prize-winning book, “Heat Wave,” about the deadly hot weather that killed residents of Chicago in 1995, and “Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America’s Media.”

Here, Klinenberg takes on what he calls the biggest demographic shift in American since the emergence of the Baby Boom: our growing tendency to live alone …  and like it.

What is this book about?

Most Americans are used to thinking that everyone wants to pair up and marry. Klinenberg has done the math and begs to differ. In this fascinating sociological study, which is backed up by solid research, he points out that more than 50 percent of American adults are single, and 31 million adults — about one out of every seven  — live alone and comprise 28 percent of U.S. households, making them more common than any other, including the nuclear family.

Furthermore, Klinenberg says they tend to be more engaged with the world than married people, and generally are not suffering from loneliness and isolation.

He bases his startling conclusions on more than 300 interviews, statistical information and other data and concludes that “going solo” is the wave of the future and not something to be feared.

Why you’ll like it:

Having your preconceptions up-ended can be an eye-opening and mind-challenging experience. Keeping up with cultural trends can be valuable personally and professionally, and this book is sure to be talked about.

The Economist magazine asked Klinenberg about his own experience in living alone. He said:

“I now live with my wife and two young children. But I lived alone in graduate school and really enjoyed the experience. I enjoyed the freedom to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it, whether that meant going out late at night or leaving the country on a whim. I enjoyed the solitude. It allowed me to be productive in my work and in my own personal life. I look back on it as a key experience. For me, it was a pivotal point. It was how I grew up. Now that we delay marriage as long as we do, living alone is a vital part of becoming an adult.”

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says: [W]ith divorce rates soaring and employment stability at a low, Westerners have gotten used to moving fluidly among cities, jobs, and partners, putting off marriage. At the same time, young people have reframed solo dwelling as a first step into adult independence, shaking some of its old stigma. Klinenberg portrays a number of young urban professionals who enjoy the good life and stay hyperconnected through social media; middle-aged divorcés with little faith in marriage and a fierce desire to protect their independence; widows and widowers forging new networks in assisted living facilities. … Klinenberg takes an optimist’s look at how society could make sure singles—young and old, rich and poor—can make the connections that support them in their living spaces and beyond.”

“Klinenberg identifies four circumstances that have allowed this to happen: recognition of women’s rights; vastly improved communication systems; the growth of cities; and longer life spans. Where solitary time and exile were once considered punishments, people on their own today enjoy the personal and intellectual satisfactions that come from being self-reliant—something Emerson and Thoreau recognized centuries ago,” says Ellen Gilbert in Library Journal.

“[M]odern conditions make it possible to combine an active social and romantic life with the option to retreat to a solitary haven. When you can step outside your door and find three cafes, five bars, and streets teeming with acquaintances and intriguing strangers, living alone is no sentence to solitude. Still less so when, from your kitchen table, you can chat, text, email, or Skype with remote confidants. Meanwhile, women are no longer barred by custom or financial dependence from setting up house on their own. What’s more, sex is not contingent on marriage—and Americans face less pressure both to enter and to remain in wedlock. Klinenberg convincingly argues that the convergence of mass urbanization, communications technology and liberalized attitudes has driven this trend,” says Slate.

“An optimistic look at shifting social priorities that need not threaten our fundamental values,” says Kirkus Reviews. 

When is it available?

It’s in the stacks – but far from alone – at the Downtown and Ropkins branches of the The Hartford Public Library.

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